Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Rick Gonzalez, Yul Vasquez
Release Year – 2005
Being a big fan of the original 1953 version of War of the Worlds and some of Spielberg’s work, I remember going into the movie theater expecting a great watch. Thankfully, this did turn out to be a positive film experience for me that blended much of the “old” into this modern film. Fitting the most amount of horror and suspense possible into this flick’s money-friendly PG-13 rating, this plot hole riddled film did it’s job.
This remake stars Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier, a struggling single father taking care of his two estranged children for the weekend. Despite their rocky relationship, things turn for the worse when strange occurrences commence around their neighborhood, and a giant machine rises from the ground. Feelings of awe and wonderment are turned to fear and paranoia as the giant machine begins attacking those around it, disintegrating them immediately. Ray gathers his kids and they flee the city, but the nightmare is not over yet. Numerous other machines are scouring the countryside for any possible survivors, the death toll rising as a full force onslaught against planet Earth is under way.
Boy do I just love this plot. Aliens attacking Earth by way of giant machines that were buried before the dawn of man is frightening. If you put yourself into the shoes of the people in this film, you can see where this film’s horror comes from. Panic, paranoia, and social breakdown rule the land, and this only worsens when the tripod machines make their way to you. Awesome stuff. The opening act has got to be one of the absolute best opening acts in horror lore, greatly executed by Spielberg. The pacing and development are perfect, and chills run down your spine when you get a look at just how massive this thing is. As if it could not be anymore awesome, the fact it was buried the entire time under the streets of New York are frightening. I know I’ve already mentioned that, but that element is THAT great.
I was happy with Spielberg’s direction in this film. His camera use and development set up many chill-inducing scenes, which I would say is his expertise when taking a shot at the horror genre. He did it with Jaws, and he did it with this film. Never much of a gorehound, he did add an acceptable amount to this film, which did call for it somewhat given the content of the original novel by H. G. Wells. The look of the machines was amazing, and I am glad that he did not choose to go “modern” with them. Time and time again we get a remake that chooses to get way too modern with the design of a critical force from the original film(the look of Godzilla in 2000’s Godzilla, for instance). Personally, I hate it quite dearly. Thankfully these machines kept the look that they were obviously created by intelligent minds beyond human capacity, but at the same time did not fly or do any ridiculous things you would expect someone like Michael Bay to throw into a film.
What surprised me the most about Spielberg’s direction was that he actually allowed, or maybe even caused :gasp!: Dakota Fanning to act as horribly as she did. Now, it could be what her character role asked of her, but regardless…it was horrid. This was only worsened by the horrendous performance we got from Justin Chatwin, who portrayed her older brother. If Spielberg wanted them to come off as so brash and overly emotional as to provide conflict for Ray(Cruise’s character) I can somewhat understand. “Somewhat”? Yes, because regardless their acting was pathetic.
This brings me onto my biggest problem with this film’s writing…the character use. Written by both Josh Friedman and experienced screenwriter David Koepp(Jurassic Park I & II, Carlito’s Way, Stir of Echoes, Spiderman, Secret Window, Angels & Demons, you get the picture?), I expected more from the film’s association with it’s characters. What this film aims to do is show Ray as a battered, lazy, but loving father who’s children just do not understand him. As the film progresses we see the sacrifices he makes for them, yet feel no remorse for him from ourselves(my part at least) nor his children. His character had a purpose, but the goal of that purpose was never achieved. It could be the way his character was written, and then aided by the poor performances and character use from his children. Basically, I did not care for a SINGLE person in this film, when I was SUPPOSED to care for Ray when his children see how much he really cares for them. Big failure on that.
Nonetheless, I do not mean to completely dog the film’s writers because they did give us an overall positive experience teamed up with Spielberg’s direction. They did have a foundation to build off of(the original, and the novel) which I am sure eased their efforts.
Overall, this is a positive watch that I recommend to fans of the original film and alien invasion flicks. The tension is high, the horror is there, and many memorable scenes come from that. It is not often we get big time legendary directors like Spielberg to work in our genre, so eat it up while you can.